16 Apr 2014
The many technological advances of the past decade or so have resulted in all manner of changes both in and beyond the workplace; not least of which being a newfound freedom to work from an unfixed location.
Whereas it used to be the case that work was tethered to a desk, the onset of the digital age has given rise to innovative and sometimes revolutionary new ways of communicating and sharing information, in effect changing the very nature of the workplace.
“The miniaturisation of technology, the advent of the smartphone, wi-fi, these are the major innovations that have really changed the way we work,” says Mark van Berkel, CEO of TrueNorth Avionics, a man who knows all about the technological changes that have enabled the workplace and the new opportunities to have emerged in the business aviation.
“What we’re finding when we speak to our customers is that they are using business aviation as a productivity tool,” says van Berkel. “Essentially, it allows them to be in two places at one time, and many talk about it, in a sense, as though it were a type of time machine.”
A productivity tool
Whereas in the case of commercial flight there is a lot of wasted time spent queuing, checking in, passing through security, and so forth, business aviation offers a far greater degree of flexibility and efficiency when arranging transportation.
“In the case of business aviation, I could have a business meeting in Washington DC this afternoon, I could fly from Ottawa to DC immediately, have a two to three hour meeting, fly back, and still be home in time for dinner. That same route via commercial aviation could otherwise tie me up for two, maybe three days,” says van Berkel. “Really, it allows businesses to operate more efficiently, especially for senior management, a CEO for example.”
Critical to TrueNorth’s success is an advanced understanding that technology is ever-evolving
In addition to the benefits that come with efficient transportation, business jets in the present day are equipped to accommodate in-flight work – practically eliminating down time.
“I think a business jet is a real asset, but if you were to take two jets, equal in every way, but one had connectivity and the other did not, one would make for a great means of transportation and the other would be a productivity tool.”
Technology has freed workers from their desks, a state of affairs that can be illustrated by the growing number of freelance workers in Europe and internationally. One study, conducted by the European Forum of Independent Professionals, found that between 2000 and 2011, the number of freelancers working across the EU shot up 82 percent, equating to some 8,569,200 individuals.
Major changes in the field of business aviation have come mostly by way of connectivity, as the three developments of miniaturisation, wi-fi and mobile communications have each made their way into the cabin and changed the workplace dynamic.
The increased connectivity of business aviation has proceeded to change the ways in which leaders conduct their business when in transit, starting with the way in which individuals formulate their business strategy.
“How I think business aviation changes the strategy is that it now allows companies to have more face-to-face meetings with their customers and develop more opportunities because they have the plane to facilitate that face-to-face model,” says van Berkel. “No matter the technology, it never really replaces that basic human need to communicate, and human beings naturally need to communicate on a face-to-face basis.”
Aside from the convenience in terms of face-to-face interaction, business aviation allows individuals to continue their business while in transit, whether that be via the internet or telephone, given that business opportunities today continue to be more globalised – far and above what they were.
“I’ve been in the satellite communication business from the early days, before anyone had internet on planes, and the reality is, I’ve seen more change in the last five years, than I saw in the previous 10,” says van Berkel. “Wi-fi on a plane was a dream 15 years ago.”
In addition to internet connectivity, those travelling on business jets increasingly find that having access to a telephone is key, be it an inflight phone or their own device. “In business aviation we’re seeing today that there’s a real drive for people to bring their own devices. It used to be that the IT department would issue your phone and now there’s much more choice in the market.”
With this choice has come new, loftier expectations in what people expect of business aviation. “As soon as the latest device makes it into the stores, they expect it on the plane,” says van Berkel.
Changing flight paths
Van Berkel’s TrueNorth is a leading airborne connectivity company that designs, develops and manufactures inflight connectivity solutions for business jets. The privately held, Ottawa-based enterprise is still relatively young at eight years, though the company exhibits an unparalleled understanding of the opportunities that business jets can offer senior management and CEOs.
Critical to TrueNorth’s success is an advanced understanding that technology is ever-evolving, and that, in order to accommodate change, implicated parties must seek to adopt an open architecture-type system.
“We win because we integrate everything in the cabin to the passenger. We don’t just offer a single silo device; we really facilitate a very rich passenger experience,” says van Berkel. “Essentially, we offer the entire cabin connectivity infrastructure.”
In light of recent and ongoing technological changes, the very nature of productivity has changed these last few years, and this is something that TrueNorth – more than most – has come to recognise when dealing with clients on a day-to-day basis.
“What I do believe is that somewhere, someone is developing the new technology that is going to change our lives. For example, none of us could have forecast the effect that social media has had on how individuals communicate and connect,” says van Berkel.
“I think the important thing to understand is that things are going to change. We are in a communication, information and entertainment tsunami; things are changing all the time. The interesting thing is that there are three things any of us want to do on a plane, and that is, we want to communicate, we want access to information and we want to be entertained.”
In essence, business aviation at its best allows those onboard access to the same tools they would otherwise have access to in their own home or office. Beyond simply being a more convenient method of getting from point A to B, a properly equipped business jet is also a business strategy in itself.